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Watching While Black

Centering the Television of Black Audiences

Beretta E. Smith-Shomade

Publication Year: 2013

Television scholarship has substantially ignored programming aimed at Black audiences despite a few sweeping histories and critiques. In this volume, the first of its kind, contributors examine the televisual diversity, complexity, and cultural imperatives manifest in programming directed at a Black and marginalized audience.

Watching While Black considers its subject from an entirely new angle in an attempt to understand the lives, motivations, distinctions, kindred lines, and individuality of various Black groups and suggest what television might be like if such diversity permeated beyond specialized enclaves. It looks at the macro structures of ownership, producing, casting, and advertising that all inform production, and then delves into television programming crafted to appeal to black audiences—historic and contemporary, domestic and worldwide.

Chapters rethink such historically significant programs as Roots and Black Journal, such seemingly innocuous programs as Fat Albert and bro’Town, and such contemporary and culturally complicated programs as Noah’s Arc, Treme, and The Boondocks. The book makes a case for the centrality of these programs while always recognizing the racial dynamics that continue to shape Black representation on the small screen.  Painting a decidedly introspective portrait across forty years of Black television, Watching While Black sheds much-needed light on under-examined demographics, broadens common audience considerations, and gives deference to the the preferences of audiences and producers of Black-targeted programming.


Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 3-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xi-x

I thank the two anonymous readers for their support and critical insights into the workings of the articles and the book as a whole. Your critiques have made the work much stronger. I appreciate my wonderful and patient press editors as well, Leslie Mitchner and Lisa Boyajian, who persevered even when I made their lives admittedly, a bit difficult. ...

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Introduction: I See Black People

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pp. 1-16

This project has been engaging my thoughts for nearly a decade. I was forced to actually address it while sitting in our temporary home in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, watching world satellite TV with virtually no Blacks on it. In Nigeria, I became acquainted with Paris-based Fashion TV, U.S.-based Style Network, and the Australian production McLeod’s Daughters. ...

Part I: Producing Blackness

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1. The Importance of Roots

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pp. 19-32

In January 1977, I, along with over ninety million other Americans, watched at least one episode of the television miniseries Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Over the eight days of the broadcast, the audience grew, and debates regarding its impact filled media outlets. In the weeks and months after the show aired, the impact was measurable ...

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2. Two Different Worlds: Television as a Producer's Medium

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pp. 33-48

Although discourses regarding 1980s representations of Blackness on television heavily focus on The Cosby Show, its NBC spin-off series, A Different World, depicting student life at a historically Black college, was equally groundbreaking and deserving of critical attention. Looking to transfer the appeal and audience share of The Cosby Show to A Different World, ...

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3. A Black Cast Doesn't Make a Black Show: City of Angels and the Plausible Deniability of Color-blindness

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pp. 49-62

In a recent debate over the problematic characterization of Bonnie Bennett, the only Black female recurring character on the CW network series The Vampire Diaries (CW 2009), my challenger insisted that with all of the qualifiers I insisted she have, “maybe this is another hidden reason there are no minorities on television: everything becomes an issue and you just can’t win.” ...

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4. Blacks in the Future: Braving the Frontier of the Web Series

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pp. 63-74

Television’s synergy with the Web initially seemed inconceivable to network executives. With the rise of Internet use, newspaper and magazine articles announced the impending death of television. While that was clearly hyperbole, network executives, though often anonymously, expressed their fears that Web content would siphon off viewership ...

Part II: Blackness on Demand

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5. "Regular Television Put to Shame by Negro Production": Picturing a Black World on Black Journal

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pp. 77-88

In the first episode of Black Journal, before the opening credits, comedian Godfrey Cambridge appears dressed in overalls and a painter’s cap with a paint roller in hand and methodically paints the television frame. To the viewer, it appears that his or her television is being painted black from the inside—a potent visual symbol from the first national Black public affairs program. ...

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6. "HEY, HEY, HEY!" Bill Cosby's Fat Albert as Psychodynamic Postmodern Play

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pp. 89-104

Although the cartoon series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (CBS, 1972–1984) averaged only nine new episodes a year during its twelve-year run (compared to a more standard production cycle of twenty-five to sixty new episodes a year for other cartoons), the show remained a highly popular option for young viewers on late Saturday mornings. ...

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7. Gimme a Break! and the Limits of the Modern Mammy

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pp. 105-120

Picture this: a comedy about an overweight Black woman who lives with and takes care of a white family. Joking all the way, she cooks, cleans, helps the father of the family, and comforts the children. Then at one point, we see the father holding his gun and pointing toward the door. ...

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8. Down in the Treme … Buck Jumping and Having Fun?: The Impact of Depictions of Post-Katrina New Orleans on Viewers' Perceptions of the City

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pp. 121-138

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Louisiana, life remained not normal still for many residents of the city. And while mainstream news organizations remembered the fifth anniversary of the hurricane with extensive coverage, it was the work of filmmaker Spike Lee and television program creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer ...

Part III: New Jack Black

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9. Keepin' It Reality Television

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pp. 141-156

On November 4, 2008, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show via satellite. One of the more memorable moments of the interview came when Cooper expressed shock that DeGeneres was unfamiliar with the hit Bravo television show The Real Housewives of Atlanta. “You mean you don’t know about NeNe?” ...

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10. Prioritized: The Hip Hop (Re)Construction of Black Womanhood in Girlfriends and The Game

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pp. 157-171

Why is it important that a Black woman created, wrote for, and co-produced1 two highly-regarded television situation comedies that engaged a variety of Black women’s health issues while at the same time these issues were being reduced, simplified, or altogether ignored in mainstream American hip hop? ...

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11. Nigger, Coon, Boy, Punk, Homo, Faggot, Black Man: Reconsidering Established Interpretations of Masculinity, Race, and Sexuality Through Noah's Arc

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pp. 172-186

At best, our knowledge about the lives and experiences of Black gay men is limited to a series of stereotypes, snap judgments, and ridicule. In terms of television media product, this aforementioned knowledge has been packaged mostly within the framework of comedy: a red-leather-clad Eddie Murphy talking about the most effective ways to shield his ass from the gay male gaze ...

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12. Graphic Blackness/Anime Noir: Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks and the Adult Swim

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pp. 187-204

Aaron McGruder’s “The Return of the King” (2006) is one of many of the artist’s controversial episodes, yet it stands out because of the criticism it received among mainstream media outlets and civil rights leaders.1 It was the ninth episode to air from his series The Boondocks, which is an anime show that airs on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim cable channel. ...

Part IV: Worldwide Blackness

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13. Resistance Televised: The TV da Gente Television Network and Brazilian Racial Politics

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pp. 207-219

As activists and political leaders in Brazil call for increasing rights, recognition, and redress to address the multiple forms of marginalization that Afro-Brazilians have endured, media has become an increasingly important sphere through which different constituencies mobilize to advance a project of racial equality.1 ...

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14. South African Soapies: A "Rainbow Nation" Realized?

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pp. 220-231

In the United States, daytime soap operas are often critiqued as escapist fantasies with narratives that provide leisure and pleasure for middle-class and stay-at-home mothers. The storylines typically involve forbidden sexual liaisons and business relationships, with physical and psychological behaviors that center on powerful families. ...

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15. Minority Television Trade as Cultural Journey: The Case of New Zealand's bro'Town

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pp. 232-246

Four animated, brown-skinned youth are lounging on a porch step in Auckland, New Zealand, when a fierce-looking social worker and police constable approach and insist on knowing where the father of two of the boys is. As the constable raises his nightstick, one of the boys fumbles in heavily accented Māori English, “He went to the pub four days ago and hasn’t been back.” ...

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 247-250


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pp. 251-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780813553887
E-ISBN-10: 0813553881
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813553863
Print-ISBN-10: 0813553873

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013